Surging Chelsea visit Liverpool in League Cup final preview

Liverpool have been cruising atop the Premier League table even without goal-scorer extraordinaire Mo Salah, but the challenge will be difficult when they host an improving Chelsea in Wednesday's League Cup Final preview.

Salah has 14 league goals but has been out since early January for international duty with Egypt and then a hamstring injury sustained during group play at the African Cup of Nations.

He hasn't featured for Liverpool (14-1-6, 48 points) since New Year's Day, and yet the Reds have only expanded their lead atop the table while also progressing to the League Cup final and FA Cup fifth round.

In total, Jurgen Klopp's men have scored 14 goals since Salah's departure while earning four wins and a draw in all competitions. It's been a committee effort, with Darwin Nunez and Diogo Jota each scoring three goals, and Curtis Jones and Luis Diaz adding two each in the stretch.

The lone draw – 1-1 away to Fulham – came in the second leg of the League Cup semifinals and was still enough to earn a 3-2 aggregate victory.

Yet Klopp says there is reason to be wary of Mauricio Pochettino's Chelsea side, which will also be Liverpool's League Cup final opponent in late February.

"They had a lot of injuries but now they have a core group together," Klopp said of Pochettino's group. "They have the midfield they want together, the entire back-line other than Reece James. A really good team, even if you can't see it in the table yet. I expect them to make big steps ... but start after our game."

The ninth-place Blues have lost only one of their last seven matches in all competitions and are unbeaten in their last four games against top-flight opposition. And when you look at analytic stats like expected goals difference, they rank in the league's top quarter.

The question is whether Chelsea (9-8-4, 31 points) can find a reliable Salah-like scorer on their roster.

Nicklas Jackson has seven goals but has been wasteful with chances in his first Premier League season. Cole Palmer has nine goals while playing in the advanced midfield – a role that wouldn't be leaned on so heavily for scoring in an ideal world.

And when asked about how such a player might have impacted his team's season so far, Pochettino suggested there wasn't such a figure within his current roster.

"It's true that our performance if we compare with another team, we are at the top, only in terms of performance, but of course, after we miss maybe this type of player that would make a difference," he said. "This is the reality, we need to build our victory in different ways and try to be clinical because we want to win games."--REUTERS

Most Popular
Related Article
Says Stories